Who isn’t making headphones now days, I mean the market is growing tenfold and it just makes sense for all the regarded names in HiFi to try their luck and NAD are no different to a bunch of others, including, but not limited too, Bowers & Wilkins, Kef, PSB and Musical Fidelity to get involved. Apple recently buying Beats By Dre for $3Billion sure just shows the magnitude the headphones market is at! I doubt NAD Electronics need much explaining on who they are, I’m sure you have owned something from their expansive Home Theatre and HiFi/Stereo ranges over the years as in our household we certainly have but this, the Viso HP 50, is their very first venture into headphones. Priced at £229 it is a closed back portable headphones that looks sleek and stylish from the off and like many others, make bold claims on the sound quality. The bit that is a little different from similar claims though is that that one of the biggest claims is about a ROOMFEEL technology they use, which apparently helps get a more stereo and open sound, something that I always find lacking in closed back headphones, with the exception of just a few. Claims like this certainly are a welcome relief compared to claims of an unparalleled bass response.
The NAD seems very well suited for portable use, its quite sleek for a full sized headphone and its looks are modern and stylish with it not trying to be anything else. You can get it in a range of colours if you want some added life but I really like the black version I have with the silver accents being very complimentary and the overall colour scheme looking pretty badass with my all black portable rig of PWAudio Modified AK120 and Vorzuge Pure. Metal yokes and a very accurate and solid feeling adjustment slider back up a thin but stiff headband. The super shiny gloss faceplates I am not a huge fan of but the sides are a soft touch matte that is a much nicer finish. I have a smile for NAD not forgetting to include removable cables, which as always just make me feel safer in the headphones; you can’t go wrong with removable parts. The headphones actually have dual sided cable entries you can connect the included cable in either side of the headphones which in turn causes the other jack to work as an output, if of course you would like to use these headphones as a glorified splitter, I personally don’t see myself using it. The included cables are a bit disappointing if I’m honest but I don’t keep it a secret that I hate flat cables, I just don’t see the point of them, they feel and look tacky. This one is no exception, it has a slight hold of its box shape so it is wavy from amp to headphone and I don’t ever like how a flat cables into a jack, it just doesn’t feel safe. You do get two cables with the HP50s, one that is pure audio and one with the usual 3-button remote and mic for those of you using your headphones with your smartphone.
The cup shapes make sense when you think about it being square and while they are not the biggest or deepest cups, they still happily accommodate your entire ears. My ears do seem to get a bit close to the driver but is not uncomfortable in any way or closed in, they have good space and the pads help out being very soft on your head. The headband is actually quite thin and has a square shape to it so it doesn’t run along the entirety of your head and this actually helps it take the weight of the headphones and leaves them feeling really comfortable if just a little bit stiff. The sqaureish headband also keeps skull crushing clamping at bay and while they sit snugly, they don’t start to cause pain.
The overall package of these headphones, size, comfort and their decent ability when it comes to isolating leave this very much an easy option for everyday use, out and about and in your house if you want. When it comes to driving it is also easy, they have sounded pretty darn good off of something like my MS-AK100 (or even my iPhone 4 for that matter) and only gain a little more control when the like of a portable amp are added, so you can get pretty much all you want from these, with something you probably already have, they are a pick up and go headphone and if I am honest, I didn’t find these to scale very well at all, with my desktop sounding not much better at all than something simple like a stand alone DAP.
The HP50 does a consumer grade warm sound with a level of clearness that I have not heard before. It doesn’t stay from the slightly elevated bass line and silky smooth sound that a lot of other headphones have gone for and that will easily please most listeners with most genres (just the like Fostex TH900 can) but it goes without a lot of the usual caveats, such as a jumbled sound, small or overly recessed sounding mids and a dull treble. NAD have clearly done the research with the sound signature of this because sounds quite in line with something that quickly got a great fan base, the Sennheiser Momentum but then pushes things on in a lot areas, like a clear and natural upgrade. So while like everything it isn’t for everyone, this does a good job and putting up a great sound with most genres of music and giving an easy listen for most people and for its target uses, this is exactly what you want.
The bass is very capable and I have to say it does a good job of behaving when the track is without a pulsing and thumping bass line through out with it just providing the sound with velvety warmth that will hold you nicely. The bass seems to be on an ever so gradual downward slant from a well-extended sub-bass, all the way until we hit the midrange, the slope is gradual as I said that helps things not overshadow each other, just allowing everything compliment each other with a rich timbre in the mid-bass that really gets on with synthetic sounds and a deep bass that is textured and well layered. It not a bass head can, its not bass dominating or bass centred but it does have bass there, especially when needed.
The transition into the midrange is one of the more impressive things, it does it so well for a warmer headphone, moving that bodied and full timbre and inviting warm vibe into the lower mids while still having them come across so clear, even with a small linger of air on the edge of vocals. It does seem to get slightly more relaxed as we hit the upper areas of the midrange, still being beautifully clear, generating emotion in the voices of those including, Dusty Springfield and Amy Winehouse and generating the vocal power of those such as Adele. I wouldn’t say they have a great sense of clarity but they sure can deliver macro dynamics when it comes to something like Stone Sours “Take A Number”, the NADs have the ability to explode while they have a very pleasant soft sound when the music didn’t want to have rough edge something like the above has. Micro details do become a little more covered over though, with these certainly not having the last say in transparency or anything like that.
The Treble is the most subdued area, still well balanced with the rest of the headphone, which all in all do keep everything well kept together with only a small and gradual slant. There is polite bump in the sparkle area that can provide a grungy sound to metal guitars and give a nice ring to a snare but it is still a little polite in that is not over doing decay or getting harsh. Likewise the headphones are never sibilant but we do have some air involved, I’m not talking on par with a Sennheiser HD800, just something that I’m not using to experiencing with a fully portable headphone.
So yes soundstage, I mean it does well to throw things around on a horizontal plane, which is more than I can say so for the most part in this realm of portable headphones. Don’t however get the wrong idea though, they are a still pretty closed, with a only a little bit of room too throw instruments around although they do make good use of what room they have.
It’s when I start comparing to competitors though you really see where it lies and for the most part it does very well. For it does push on from what the bulk of headphones can do but then I threw it up against one of my favourite portable models, ZMF Headphones modified Fostex T50RPs and considering they can be had for the same price, they certainly do extend on what the NADs can do and while signature wise the difference is not substantial, the technical level is obvious. But thenb for a start you will have to invest more into driving the ZMFs than you will ever for the NADs and off something like a smartphone, they would be much more on par, the ZMFs just have massive scalability! If like me sound is a priority, then a choice is not hard to make, but as a package, I still have to say the NAD is one of the best headphones. The ZMFs are one of the only headphones that do stand in the way though because these hands down put competitors from Ultimate Ears, Sennheiser, Fischer Audio, Kef, Yamaha and ADL!
The reason I say that is because they are good looking, modern, comfortable, and the sound just finishes of the package, I know to some people, aesthetics and finish quality of the ZMFs just wont cut it and if that’s the case, then these are probably your next best option. At £229 NAD are really delivering and it’s great to see and if your looking for a headphone that you want to use everywhere and sound good with everything, then this could well be the best option!